Thursday, 4 September 2008

Clarification, Correction And Connection

Thanks for the note Elise, that's what I get for not posting for so long........the brain runs much faster than the fingers and I miss stuff out I meant to put in!

What meant to say was although there are many examples of cross cultural influence, quite often we can mistake convergent evolution of dishes in differing cultures as evidence that there must have been dissemination of information between the stands to reason doesn't it?

As human beings we love to see connections and patterns, quite often where they don't exist! There certainly are recipes that share a common heritage, but there are also those that look like they must do, but probably don't. Two excellent papers that illustrate this can be found in 'Medieval Arab Cookery' by Maxine Rodinson, A.J. Arberry & Charles Perry, Prospect books 2006....'Romania and other Arabic Words in Italian' by Maxine Rodinson concisely puts the case for linguistic connections between Eastern and Western recipes, where Western recipes can be seen to have originated in the Arab world. Charles Perry's essay 'Isfidhabaj, Blancmanger and no Almonds' shows the other side of the coin though. Here the similarities between Arab and European recipes is so striking as to lead one to the obvious conclusion that one must be descended from the other....virtually the same ingredients, virtually the same outcome.....even sharing names that mean roughly 'white food'.
However closer study shows that this particular Arab recipe is only one of many variations for the same dish.....and the only one of them to vaguely resemble the western dish blancmanger; it just so happens that it is the only recipe of the group of Arabic ones to have been translated into English by A.J. Arberry in the 'Baghdad Cookery Book' in 1939 and thus the only version available for to most Western food historians to compare to (let's face it, most of us don't have as good a grasp of Arabic as Charles does, so we use the sources available to us).

I suppose all of this rambling is just to say that we really do have to be careful with making connections that may not be there and as someone who tries to put across information to the public in the way that we do at Hampton Court it's worth reminding myself of this from time to time. After all it can be hard enough explaining the basics of what we're doing to people as it is, without all of this sort of discussion ; I've lost count of the times that we've tried to explain to people 'just because there's beef and apples next to the cream and eggs that I'm using to make custard with doesn't mean that the beef and apples will be going in the custard.....they are for different dishes!'.......connections, people make 'em all the time.

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